Gisela Vega is the associate director of LGBTQA Initiatives for Florida International University (FIU). Gisela spearheads the development and implementation of educational, social, and resource programs and services for the gay community and their allies. This is the first position of its kind for FIU.
In another first, FIU played host for the first time to the 10th annual Florida Collegiate Pride Coalition Conference this month, under the direction of Gisela. This three-day conference brought together hundreds of LGBTQA students from across the state for leadership training, networking activities, and lectures.
Congratulations on being a pioneer! Not only did you organize the first FIU-hosted state-wide LGBTQA conference, but you are the first associate director of LGBTQA initiatives.
Yes, thank you. This is the first time the university has hired a full-time person dedicated to the issues of this community. I’ve been blessed because I’m now being paid to do what I’m very passionate about, so I love coming to work every day, and every day there’s something new and exciting that has to be done.
What kind of services does your office offer lesbian students?
We connect students with academic, financial, social services. For instance, if they are wanting to talk to someone about their health and well-being, we can connect them with those services. We also offer programing to develop their academic and leadership skills. We also provide educational programs and workshops to combat heterosexism on campus and run the Safe Zone program on campus. Finally, we serve as a sounding board for any issues they may be encountering at the university.
I’ve noticed that certain offices are designated as “Safe Zones,” what are those?
Safe Zones are places that have been designated on campus as an area where students can go and speak openly about any sexual orientation issues or gender identity questions they may have. The person in the safe zone is an LGBTQA supporter and is receptive and offers support to the students.
Do you also work with straight students who may have a lesbian friend in need?
Absolutely, the A in LGBTQA stands for our allies. What we do is provide resources, education, and programming for those that are interested in understanding the needs of our LGBTQ students. We also know that the work of social justice in the LGBTQ community cannot be done without our Allies.
What organizations are currently available on campus for students to join?
Stonewall Pride Alliance is one of the oldest LGBTQA groups on campus; we also have the Advocacy Pride Coalition, Delta Lamdba Phi the Progressive Male Fraternity; the Rainbow Panthers, which is a faculty and staff group, the Access & Equity subcommittee on LGBTQ issues, the Stonewall Legal Alliance, and most recently added the medical school’s H.W. College of Medicine Gay-Straight Alliance.
Do you think that the increase of exposure of gays and lesbians in the media has helped this new generation?
I think we tend to think that it’s getting better because there’s more exposure, but the reality is that our students are still suffering. And that’s one of the reasons I’m most glad that this position exists. Within the first few months of establishing this office, I’ve had about a dozen students who were in great need physically, emotionally and academically. I’ve been dealing with students that have been kicked out of their homes for being gay. I’ve had students with great academic potential, but because they were ostracized by their family they had to drop out. So, on the one hand, there is more awareness, but on the other, there are a lot of issues we still need to bring to the forefront to best help our students be successful.
In one year, we’ve chatted with some pretty amazing women. They’ve made us laugh. They’ve made us contemplate. They’ve shared their coming out stories. They’ve shared their passion. So, to celebrate all together, we compiled this collection of favorite moments from our conversations with these wonderful women. Their quotes are like the candles to our birthday cake, so when you’re done reading them, feel free to type in your wishes for next year in the comment section.
ON COMING OUT
ON SELF ACCEPTANCE
JUST PLAIN FUNNY
BOUND had a chat with the lovely and talented Jill Bennett - and we tried really hard not to swoon. Jill burst onto the big screen in “In Her Line of Fire,” alongside Mariel Hemingway and then stole our hearts in her role as Casey in “And Then Came Lola.” Most recently, Jill co-created of the webseries, “Second Shot,” which she also stars and produces. The series premieres April 5th at 7 p.m. on
We absolutely loved you in “And Then Came Lola.” Do people come up to you and talk to you about it?
Yeah! It was a fun little film made by women within in our community. It was really fun to be a part of. I was actually the first person they cast and I suggested Ashley Sumner for one of the roles. It is one of those movies that people still ask about. We were in Germany over the summer at a Film Festival and people still asked about “And Then Came Lola,” it’s sweet that the movie still has some life in it.
How has the transition been from acting to producing?
After you’ve been an actor, for a while, you start to get a little frustrated about what you’re seeing or maybe not seeing. I’ve been working predominantly in the gay community and I’ve had a lot of fun, and there are a lot of great projects out there, but I always felt a little unsatisfied with either the character I was playing, or the story as a whole, or how it ended up. That’s why we wanted to do something really small and for ourselves and for whatever fan based we had wanting to show a lesbian couple. And, it had to be funny and not end with cancer or death or with somebody deciding to be straight . So that’s why we started doing it.
What are you working on now?
I produced a new series called “Second Shot” and I’m also in development for a couple of feature films that I want to do. They are all stories that I relate to. They are not about being gay, but a lesbian is the lead character, or one of the protagonists in the story, and its really satisfying for me. At this point anything that I do in the gay community, I want to be part of the production team because I have specific ideas of what I want to be involved with and the stories that I think need to be told.
So, you’re kind of a perfectionist.
That’s exactly right. I’ve worked with a lot of straight film makers and played a lesbian in their movies. I’m not going to say that they didn’t do a good job, they did the best that they could do, but I felt there were elements of the story that they weren’t getting right, which is understandable because they are not gay. And, there are just certain parts of our lives that people that are outside really don’t understand. So, that was definitely part of wanting to get into producing.
We have a quote from you that you said a long time ago, which reads, “There are plenty of lesbians in Hollywood, but they are not out and that is their choice, but I can’t do that, it’s too important to me.” Is that still true?
Absolutely. I do remember that and I still mean it. Obviously things have changed a lot since I said that and more and more people have come out of the closet - and I mean not a lot of lesbians, but a lot of gay men have come out of the closet. I don’t want to say that it’s different for women than for men, because it’s hard for men to come out as well, but there is a lot of sexism here [in Hollywood]. I think it’s difficult for women to be openly gay. So, yes I still believe and I’m still happy that I did it and I wouldn’t change anything.
When did you come out to Hollywood?
It was 2006 or so that I did an interview because I was in the original cast of Dante’s Cove. I shot the pilot and then the show got recast, so I didn’t come back until the 3rd season. I was never in the closet, but that was the first time that I was interviewed about it for anything related to my acting.
And, what about your personal coming out story? How did your family react?
I definitely knew as a kid. I wasn’t out in high school because it was in the mid-ninety’s, and it was a much different time then. I had a couple of boyfriends but we never...you know [laughs]. Poor guys, nothing ever happen. I did tell my parents when I was nineteen after my first semester in college. My mom was surprised and my dad said he knew when I was in high school. By in large, I had a very easy coming out process. My family was pretty supportive.
How would you say the community has evolved since you came out? Are things better?
I think it’s much better. It’s really exploded. Everything with the internet has changed. It’s so amazing to me that now there are so many web sites and so many communities for lesbians to find each other. But, we still don’t have equal rights. I’m in my late 30’s and I’m looking at the younger girls coming up and I worry that they don’t understand the need to be politically involved. I would love to not be political, but we are not in that position yet.
Robin Schwartz is the executive director and one of the founding members of Aqua Foundation for Women. She was born and raised in Miami, so when she says she can make a mean cup of Cuban coffee - we believe her. BOUND sat down with the long-time LBT advocate and discovered that she is not only passionate about our community, but she is a super hero in sensible shoes.
Robin, tell us your coming out story.
Well, I didn’t grow up knowing I was gay. It wasn’t until a friend asked me to go to a club, it just happened to be a gay club. At the time I was in College at Gainesville and I was a DJ and really into music, so I didn’t think anything of it, but I kept going back. I also didn’t have the struggle most women encounter when telling family and friends. My brother found out and told my mom. When my mother confronted me about it - and this is the interesting part - she asked me if I wanted to be a boy or a girl. In the end there was a little bit of shock, but she was relatively accepting, and I was very fortunate.
That is fortunate. In the case of women who may be struggling with coming out right now, what advice would you give?
I would tell them that they are perfect in every way. It’s all about self-love, especially in the women’s community. I would also suggest that they get involved or volunteer with an organization and surround themselves with LBT women that have already come through the other side of coming out.
What is the most important challenge facing our community today?
Wow. That’s a really good question. I would say equality in terms of perception and love. For women in particular, there is another layer, which is one of self-acceptance and pride - without them it leads to a lack of self-confidence.
How did you get your start in LBT advocacy?
About 20 years ago my grandmother passed away and left me an inheritance. I was working and had my house already, so I didn’t really need it. I decided to take half of the money and donate it to SAVE Dade. As a donor, I was invited to events and engaged as a speaker. From there, I continued working with several other organizations, including Miami Beach Gay Pride, the City of Miami Beach LGBT Business Enhancement Committee, the Task Force, Pridelines, and the Humane Society. Then, in 2004, we founded Aqua Foundation for Women.
Of all of the projects and initiatives you’ve worked on throughout the years, which one is your favorite?
I can’t pick just one, so I’ll give you my top three. The mentor program that pairs young women with role models. The LBT Health Directory, because I’m confident that it’s going to save lives. And the very recent project Aqua Foundation announced, which is a funding stream for 3 years to combat youth homelessness in Miami.
Teen LBT homelessness is definitely one of the most pressing issues of our time, so that is fantastic news. We created this little magazine in the hopes to combat isolation in our community. And, as you know, there is so much to be done. But Aqua Foundation has the pulse of the community, and we at BOUND find ourselves looking to you for inspiration.
Thank you so much. I feel like Aqua Foundation for Women is now leading the way. In almost a decade of existence, we have the organization where we want to be.
Speaking of being where we want to be. We all want to be at Aqua Girl 2013. What can you tell our readers about the event?
What’s best about Aqua Girl is that it’s not only about having a good time, but it’s about doing good. One hundred percent of the proceeds of this event benefit Aqua Foundation for Women. As for Aqua Girl, we have a new location...the National Hotel. With the sexiest pool on South Beach, we are hosting two pool parties. There is a special price to book at the National Hotel now through January 31, so I suggest everyone takes advantage of that deal. The best way to keep up with news about the event is through Facebook, both Aqua Girl and Aqua Foundation have all the latest.
BOUND will absolutely be there. Thank you so much for chatting with us, Robin.
Thank you! And see you at Aqua Girl.
Nearly 40 years ago, Gloria Steinem founded the country’s first women’s fund, the Ms. Foundation for Women. It was the height of the feminist movement and the mission of the Ms. Foundation was to deliver funding to organizations that were elevating women’s voices and solutions across race and class in communities nationwide – something that seemed nearly impossible at the time.
Since then, Steinem has continued to work to accomplish the nearly impossible, from advocating for women’s voices to being represented in the media, to lending her voice to political campaigns that protect women’s reproductive rights – as in the case of the No On 6 Campaign.
In late October, Steinem traveled to Miami and I had the honor and privilege of attending her lecture at Florida International University.
Here are the highlights from the lecture:
On voting: “Use the power you have. The voting booth is the only place on Earth where you can be heard. People will say ‘politics is dirty,’ and ‘votes don’t count,’ but voting does matter.”
On violence against women: “Since 9/11, more women are murdered by husbands and boyfriends than all of the casualties from the terrorist attacks and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
On equal pay: “Equal pay is the single most important thing for our economy. It will bring $200 billion into the economy. And, women will spend it. Not put it in a Cayman Island account.”
On convincing straight men to vote Democratic: “Unless you want every single sexual encounter to end in pregnancy, then vote Obama.”
On Gov. Mitt Romney: “He refused to support legislation for equal pay and The Violence Against Women Act.”
If you’re a loyal reader, you know that we at BOUND endorsed President Obama for many reasons - the main reason being the President’s unwavering stance on women’s issues. Regardless of the result of today’s election, we must continue to keep these issues in the forefront. Steinem paved the way for us, and now it’s our turn to continue the fight.
Recently BOUND had the privilege and honor to chat with 15-time Grammy nominated and two-time winner, Melissa Etheridge. We spoke about her new album, ‘4th Street Feeling,’ which takes fans back to the beginning of her musical journey; taking bold musical chances like playing lead guitar for the first time on every song in the album, playing a harmonica, and even a banjitar. She also talks about her coming out process and shares some sage advice for those women who are starting on their own journey.
Bound: Every song is a story, as a singer songwriter; can you briefly describe your process? Does the music come first or the lyrics?
ME: People always ask me that and the answer is the inspiration comes first. That inspiration can sometimes come in the form of lyrics, sometimes it can be music, sometimes it’s a melody, sometimes it could be rhythm, and sometimes it’s just an idea of what I want the song to be about. There’s really not a formula – music or lyric – there are many different ways to get into a song.
Bound: Your last studio album was 'Fearless Love' which was released in 2010. Did you start working on '4th Street' immediately after that?
ME: Yes I did. At the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011, I started thinking and writing for ‘4th Street.’ It was a process. I started by just letting myself think and write all year long. It wasn’t until the beginning of this year that I started formulating the songs and putting them all together. We got in the studio in April of 2012.
Bound: Tell me about the name of the album and how you would describe it in one word.
ME: To describe the album in one word I would have to say, “Home.” That’s really what ‘4th Street Feeling’ is all about. It’s about finding home. Now, 4th Street is the main drag in Leavenworth, Kansas - the town I grew up in. It’s a small Midwestern town and 4th street goes from tiny little downtown out into the place where the Burger King, and the McDonald’s, and the Sonic were. It was the only four lane highway out of town. It was where we’d cruise around and where I spent most of my teenage years, in my 1964 Chevy Impala. So finding that ‘4th Street Feeling’ is getting back to that time when all I worried about was cruising 4th street in my Chevy.
Bound: We have a very famous street here in Miami called 8th Street, but I’m sure it’s not the same feeling.
ME: I’m sure it’s a little different with a lot better music [laughs].
Bound: The first single “Falling up,” is that a banjo? Are you playing it? Have we heard that before?
ME: Yeah. It’s actually banjitar which means it’s a banjo body with a guitar neck. But, basically yes I’m playing the Banjo. I learned how to play the Banjo when I was very young because I started out in country bands. By the time I was 18, I wasn’t playing the Banjo anymore and it wasn’t until these last couple of years that I saw the Banjo making a comeback in Rock and Roll that I thought “well hey I can do that” so I grabbed it and played it. It was fun.
Bound: You have had an amazing 25 year career and ‘4th Street Feeling’ is your 12th album. What advice do you have for aspiring singers and guitarist who want to have the type of career you have had?
ME: Yeah. I’ve been blessed. Do what you love and do it because you love it. Not to be rich or famous because that rarely happens, so just do it because you love it and if you do it and you love it, then you can go from there. Then anything that happens is just icing on the cake. But you’ve got to just make the music you love and sing for everyone that will listen.
Bound: You came out during President Clinton’s inauguration party. Was that planned?
ME: Not at all. It was planned in a way that, that year I had made up my mind that I was going to come out. I had done interviews where this guy that interviewed me changed all my responses, I would always answer in a very gender non-specific way and he changed all my answers to my boyfriend. So I thought “oh Jesus Christ people are gonna think I’m all straight”, and so I decided I have to change this. At the time I thought I was going to come out on Arsenio Hall or something, but at the time, I was at a big gay ball for the Clinton inauguration because I had been involved with a lot of the gay fund raising and stuff for that. So I was on stage in front of all these gay men and women and I just said “Hey I’m a big gay gal” and that was me coming out.
Bound: You came out 20 years ago but you’ve said many times that you have been a lesbian your entire life. How would you say the community has changed over that time?
ME: I think so much has changed in the community. When I was a child, there was such a rebelliousness that came with being gay. It meant you were outside of the society, you were never going to have kids, marriage was a very straight thing so it was not something we were going to do – it was about being a rebel. When we grew up and my generation started saying we want a life, that is when we all started saying, “No we actually don’t want to be rebels, we want to be part of society.” America is a beautiful place, it is a place of freedom, and we are part of it. The walk through our gay political civil rights movement has been a long and slow one but it has always constantly been moving forward. It’s a beautiful thing to even know how far we have come. I mean, I went to a gay wedding in New York last week – it was fabulous – and to hear the rabbi saying “by the power vested in me by the state of New York, I pronounce you husband and husband,” I thought to myself oh my god this is real. That’s big stuff. We’ve come a long way. I think the greatest thing we could do is to love ourselves more, to be kinder to ourselves, to understand our own homosexuality, what it is, and that it is a very natural part of the human experience and always has been. Once we can sort of grasp that ourselves, then our brothers and sisters out there in the world can also.
Bound: What would be your message to all those women out there struggling with their sexuality?
ME: I would say it is about your health, it is about your happiness, and it is about your state of mind to be who you are. There are people dying every day because they couldn’t accept who they are, and the best thing you can do to change the world, is to be that change. Be that out person that people know and say “oh I know a gay person and she’s fine.” Be that person to yourself, and the world will look at you that way too.
BM: Jessica, thank you so much for doing this interview. I know you're out and about doing comedy shows all the time. Can you tell us where you are playing next?
JK: Thank you so much for thinking of me. I will be doing a bunch of, "one nighters" coming up. All of my dates are listed on my website, www.JessicaKirson.com.
BM: A few months ago you played the Colony Theater for Aqua Girl and you've done Olivia cruises in the past, what is the best part about performing for a majority female audience?
JK: I love performing for women. Oh boy, that sounded horrible. But, no, really, there is always a great energy in the room. They are normally amazing shows. I feel like so many things in life are male oriented. It is so beautiful to see so many women in front of me, laughing and letting go.
BM: Seriously. Where is Carol?
JK: I don't know. I really don't. She is so aloof. She has been running for a long time. What I do know, is that a lot of people are looking for her.
BM: I've seen you perform on ships and on land, but lately I've been hooked to your YouTube channel, "The Jessy K Show." I die little deaths at your hidden camera stunts (Snack Time is my favorite). Tell us how you come up with these and what is going through your mind as you're doing those outrageous things.
JK: Thank you so much. They are such a blast to make. I have always loved doing characters and doing pranks on people. I love how serious some people are. I love when people don't acknowledge what is going on in front of them. It makes me laugh. I usually don't have a huge plan. Believe it or not, most of the videos are improved. I love doing things off the cuff. I am the kind of comedian that pushes it. The kind that will take huge risks. Very few women will do that on camera. That is why I do. Believe me, sometimes I am freaking out in my head.
BM: Over the years, you've collectively spoken millions of words on stage, but can you describe your act in one word?
BM: Thank you so much for your time, and we can't wait to see you at the next all-girl event.
JK: Thank you so much. I hope to see you real soon. And I look forward to performing at a ton of all-girl events in the near future.
Check out The Jessy K Show
In 2003, Kelli Carpenter co-founded R Family Vacations with her business partner Gregg Kaminsky. Since then they’ve hosted more than 15,000 guests on their adventures on land and sea. Her family was featured in HBO's "All Aboard" and Kelli was nominated for an Emmy as one of the producers. The documentary was also shown at the Sundance Film Festival and was awarded a GLAAD award. Gregg and Kelli were given the "Lambda Legal Liberty award" and have also been honored by Family Equality Council and the NY Gay Men's Chorus. They have also been selected as members of the "OUT 100". They recently added two new types of travel to their exciting line up including another Broadway Cruise and new adult only adventures.
Bound had the opportunity to interview Kelli between trains, planes, and automobiles.
BM: Kelli, thank you so much for doing this interview. I know you're about to hit your peak travel season, so we really appreciate it. Can you tell us where you and R Family Vacations are headed next?
KC: We just completed an amazing R Family Vacations trip to Club Getaway where we took over this beautiful camp. They had kayaking, water skiing, tubing, mountain biking, hiking, archery, trapeze and so much more. We brought our team and talent to add the R Family flair to the whole thing.
Following that trip, Gregg Kaminsky, my business partner, and I produced our very first Broadway Cruise. We had an amazing line up of talent and it was a huge hit! The most popular part of the program is the Broadway Camps where anyone that wants to can study a broadway number for the week and perform it at the end of the cruise.
BM: That sounds incredible!
KC: I think we fulfilled many people's broadway dreams!
Our next trip is on our new adult only brand, "Kelli & Gregg's Adventures."
We are doing a full riverboat charter from Prague to Budapest. We are excited to have this new extension of our brand and have an exciting lineup for next year. We are doing another full Riverboat charter departing from Paris and a full resort charter in Mexico.
Our 2013 schedule is packed full of exciting trips for each of our brands. We are doing another Broadway Cruise in July. For R Family Vacations, we are doing Club Getaway again in Connecticut and a beautiful ranch in California plus a group at Club Med in Provence.
We are now able to offer the perfect vacation at the right price point for all of our guests.
BM: I’m sure that’s a result of a lot of hard work over the years. You guys are about to celebrate a huge anniversary. Can you talk about how the company has evolved in a decade and how much laws and public perceptions have changed since?
KC: We will be celebrating our 10 year anniversary with a weekend getaway in Las Vegas. We want to celebrate this momentous occasion with those who have supported us along the way.
Our company has evolved in many ways. It is now more the norm for gay and lesbian couples to grow their families with the addition of children. Those that have travelled with us since their children were young are now heading off to college.
It has been amazing to see our community change over the decade. Our growth is also from gays and lesbians without children that want to travel together. That is why we saw the need to create our adult only brand.
BM: Our magazine was founded with the sole purpose to combat isolation within the lesbian community. And, after having the privilege of going on several R Family Vacations, I knew I had to interview you and specifically talk about the incredible sense of community and togetherness one feels when traveling with you guys. Can you describe that feeling and how it continues after the trip is long over?
KC: It's always interesting to try to describe the feeling onboard our trips.
Our best sales tool is word of mouth from people who have actually experienced it. If only we could bottle up the love, acceptance and true joy that we all feel when we’re together!
I like to describe our trips as what I wish the world looked like. There is no typical guest that travels with us. We have men, women, children, grandparents, straight friends and family. The only requirement is that you come with an open heart and ready to have the time of your life.
Our trips usually end with many tears, but lasting friendships
BM: How does one go about finding out more information about upcoming vacations?
BM: Lastly, as an expert traveler, can you offer a secret packing tip for our ladies that travel with four suitcases for a weekend getaway (you know who you are)?
KC: I am an excellent packer and my goal always is to travel only with a carry on! I use vacuum bags and my new favorite easy evening item is these sporty little dresses that I get at Title 9 or Athleta. They take very little packing space!
Last month, the weather and the scene at Aqua Girl’s Aqualicious Tea Dance was sizzling. It was wall-to-wall women at The Catalina Hotel & Beach Club on South Beach, one more gorgeous than the next, as some basked in the South Florida sun, some danced to the sounds of DJ Kiki and DJ Pride, and some deliciously flirted in the pool. As if this wasn’t already a lesbian dream come true, some of the stars from Showtime’s The Real L Word® were there, looking hotter than ever.
Boundlez.com caught up exclusively with Romi Klinger and Rose Garcia who revealed to us their collaborative project, as well as what we can expect in Season 3 of The Real L Word.
BOUND: Ladies, welcome to Aqua Girl!
ROSE: This is our first Aqua Girl and we love it. We have done Pandora Events before and were excited to come out to this one.
ROMI: Just look at this! When you mix beautiful women with a pool, you can't go wrong.
ROSE: We love doing events in Florida, the girls here are always ready to have a good time.
BOUND: What do you think of Miami girls?
ROMI: Miami girls were made for Rose.
ROSE: [laughs] It's true. I love Cubanas, Dominicanas...I love all the "-anas."
BOUND: What has been your favorite event so far?
ROMI: Odyssey at Grand Central. DJ Lisa Pittman killed it last night!
ROSE: She did! And when they brought us out on the stage, it was amazing. It was truly an amazing night.
BOUND: Everyone is wearing your Casa Por Vida and LA Swag T-shirts. They are awesome. Whose is who and where can I get them?
ROMI: Thank you! Mine is Casa Por Vida and Rose's is LA Swag. You can get them at WakeUpCallTees.com.
ROSE: When you buy Romi's, Casa Por Vida shirts, ten percent of the proceeds benefit Corazon, a nonprofit organization that helps the poor in several villages surrounding Tijuana. And, when you buy LA Swag, I'm donating ten percent to the Cozumel Humane Society.
BOUND: That's fantastic. You get cool shirts while supporting great organizations. You guys are also involved in a little show called The Real L Word, which is entering into its 3rd Season. Can you give us a little tease for what we can expect?
ROMI: It's going to be a great season.
ROSE: Without saying too much, I think fans will definitely see another side of Romi. And a different side of LGBT life.
ROMI: Fans will also get to see my friendship with Rose.
ROSE: That's right. People don't know that we are really close. Romi and I talk every day.
BOUND: Okay, so everyone wants to know, are you "single ladies?"
ROMI: You have to tune in to Season 3 to find out.